Wed 4 Jul, 2007
“I’m worried about a group of white people thinking very hard about their ancestors and what the slave trade meant to them.
If we do this in isolation, I think there’s a danger that we end up giving ourselves permission to move on because we’ve decided that we’ve dealt with it and feel better about it, rather than dealing with the consequences, the living consequences today.”
— From Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North
Update: I was executive director of the Tracing Center from 2011-2015, when I became a full-time parent. During that time, I wrote most of my blog posts at the Tracing Center’s web site. There, you can find my latest writings, as well as information about our programs and activities for the general public, and for the public history community—including our book, Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).
This blog is devoted to exploring the history and legacy of the slave trade and slavery in the United States.
This is a subject which, despite its tremendous significance for our past and our present, remains largely unknown to the general public. Slavery and the slave trade were pervasive institutions in the early United States, and were central to the economies of both north and south. As a result, the economic and social impact of slavery has reverberated across the centuries, profoundly shaping contemporary society. Because many Americans remain unaware of the full extent of this history, they cannot properly appreciate the impact of this history and its legacy on racial justice and inequality today.
My fifth-great grandfather, James D’Wolf of Bristol, Rhode Island, was a wealthy merchant who served as the speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives and as a U.S. senator. On his death in 1837, he was reported to be the second-richest man in the country.
He was also a slave trader. In fact, he was the patriarch of the most successful slave-trading family in U.S. history.
I am one of ten descendants of the slave-trading D’Wolf family who have retraced the steps of our ancestors by following the historic route of the “triangle trade” from Bristol, R.I. to the west coast of Africa and to the ruins of slave plantations in Cuba. This journey is chronicled in the documentary film Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North and in Tom DeWolf’s memoir, Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History.
This blog will frequently cover developments relating to the film, the book, and to our efforts to publicize this history and its legacy through screenings, dialogues, and presentations in high schools, universities, churches, community groups, and corporate diversity training programs.
For more about me, please see my Google Profile.